On Sept. 15, 2008, Barack Obama was behind in the polls, caught off balance by the Sarah Palin selection and in trouble for the first time since his nomination. Then the financial collapse blindsided his rival, caused a huge civil war in the Republican Party, and dropped the presidency into his lap.
It wasn't the first time blind luck seemed to help Obama.
The problem being that when you've gotten by on nothing more than being in the right place at the right time there's nothing for you to fall back on if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.
[D]emocracy promotion should be understood as a subset of contemporary liberalism--the only major modern ideology that denies it is an ideology at all. More precisely, it is the end state of human political organization after all the other ideologies have withered away, the future's moral default position. To hear Western democracy-promotion activists tell it, when they work to "transition" states from a totalitarian or authoritarian social order to a liberal-democratic one, they are merely hastening the inevitable. George Soros's formulation, derived from Karl Popper and serving as the ideological underpinning for his democracy-promotion entity, the Open Society Foundations, is expressed thus: "Opening up closed societies, making open societies more viable, and promoting a critical mode of thinking." In this account, it is self-evident that history is moving in one direction--toward more freedom, more openness and more democracy. Thus, democracy promotion is best understood as embodying the main premise of Francis Fukuyama's 1989 article "The End of History?," which claimed that the West's Cold War victory marked "the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."
There is irony in this proud assertion of openness to new ideas and dismissal of "closed," undemocratic societies on the grounds that they, as Soros once complained, "claim to be in possession of the ultimate truth." After all, this contemporary Western democratic-capitalist vision, of which the democracy-promotion and human-rights movements should be viewed as subsets, also claims a monopoly on social, ethical and political truth. Soros has reminisced that he knew communism was false because "it was a dogma." But what could be more Manichaean and philosophically primitive than the blanket division of the entire world into open and closed societies? And what could be more dogmatic than Soros's audacious claim that communism's defeat "laid the groundwork for a universal open society"? For that matter, what could be more closed-minded than Fukuyama's assertion that history's only important remaining questions were how quickly and under what circumstances universalization of Western liberal capitalism would take place?
These claims may employ secular language to justify the conclusion that open societies are preferable to closed societies in large part because, again quoting Soros, "in an open society each citizen is not only allowed but required to think for himself." But that cannot obscure their uncanny resemblance to both the familiar wartime claim that God is on one's side and the Marxist idea that communism's victory was inevitable.
...between a religion that was right and an idea that was wrong?
The obvious difficulty with arguing that Marxism, Nazism and Islamicism are viable contenders with capitalist democratic protestantism is the results of history itself. They just keep losing.
In these final weeks before the election, Mr. Clinton's expert advice about how to beat Mitt Romney is starting to look suspect.
You may recall that last spring, just after Mr. Romney locked up the Republican nomination, Mr. Obama's team abruptly switched its strategy for how to define him. Up to then, the White House had been portraying Mr. Romney much as George W. Bush had gone after John Kerry in 2004 - as inauthentic and inconstant, a soulless climber who would say anything to get the job.
But it was Mr. Clinton who forcefully argued to Mr. Obama's aides that the campaign had it wrong. The best way to go after Mr. Romney, the former president said, was to publicly grant that he was the "severe conservative" he claimed to be, and then hang that unpopular ideology around his neck.
In other words, Mr. Clinton counseled that independent voters might forgive Mr. Romney for having said whatever he had to say to win his party's nomination, but they would be far more reluctant to vote for him if they thought they were getting the third term of George W. Bush. Ever since, the Obama campaign has been hammering Mr. Romney as too conservative, while essentially giving him a pass for having traveled a tortured path on issues like health care reform, abortion and gay rights.
The point of the Romney surge is that Mr. Clinton was exactly right, no one minds that Mitt ran right in the primaries so long as he can convince them that he'll govern in the middle. Of particular value to him in this regard is that the primaries were rhetorical while he has a record of governing moderately. It's not that Democrats shouldn't have tried to define him as an ideologue, but that they didn't and probably couldn't.
Obama will keep slamming Romney as the campaign comes to an end. Drawing "the contrast" as Obama's team calls it, is still the campaign's engine.
Obama officials publicly claim the plan was in the works all along and doesn't represent a major change. But many Democrats and observers see the Tuesday messaging switch as proof Obama leaned too heavily for too long on a negative "Hit Mitt" strategy, at the expense of a sustained push to convince skeptical voters the president deserves another four years.
"The Obama organization did the single best job of destroying a candidate I have ever seen in my career, from May to September," said pollster Peter Brown, who conducts the Quinnipiac University poll of battleground states.
"But that all went out the window when Romney showed people that the caricature of him as a clown was false. ... Now he's got to make the case for himself. If he was ahead now, my guess is he wouldn't have taken the chance of putting all of this out there."
The sorts of stuff a Democrat can run on and win hem him into the Republican Party.
Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the "disposition matrix."
The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the "disposition" of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.
Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation's counterterrorism ranks: The United States' conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years.
The big secret of the Obama administration's approach to national security, which neither party has had a strong incentive to admit, is that the president's first-term policies have mostly been a continuation of policies put in place during George W. Bush's second term, when the Cheneyite maximalism of the immediate post-9/11 era was tempered by a dose of pragmatism.
Obama campaigned in 2008 as a critic of the entire Bush record, first and second term alike. But the president has mostly governed - sometimes by choice, sometimes out of necessity - as a steward of the powers Bush successfully claimed and the war-on-terror architecture that he established. What's more, in his presidency's biggest decisions about the use of force abroad - the Afghan surge, the Libya intervention, the escalated drone campaign (and the "kill list" that accompanies it), the green light on the raid to get Bin Laden - Obama has almost always erred on the side of hawkishness and expanded executive authority.
In the 2012 campaign, Romney has often talked as though this hawkish record doesn't exist, painting the president as a dove and an appeaser at every opportunity. But a closer look suggests that a Romney administration, too, would promise more continuity than change: On the issues that have earned the most press this campaign season -- from the Arab Spring to Syria's civil war to the Iranian bomb to our looming withdrawal from Afghanistan -- Romney has attacked the president in general terms while remaining deliberately vague about what exactly he would do instead.
So it was healthy for American voters to see this Bush-Obama-Romney overlap crystallized on stage Monday night.
Some in the pundit class may object, but here's the thing: Romney's strategy seems to be working. And he appears more comfortable in this back-to-the-future role.
Romney's advisers insist he hasn't changed, that some of the earlier nuances in his policies were simply overlooked. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the image Romney is projecting changed rather abruptly, starting with that first debate in Denver.
Only journalists and other political junkies have been obsessively following the campaign since the early days of 2011. Many Americans are like casual baseball fans who only start paying attention at World Series time. They don't know, and maybe don't much care, what Romney said during the regular season.
So if Romney has been "all over the map" on foreign policy, as Obama repeatedly charged in their final debate, that may not matter. Swing voters want to be assured that he won't start a crazy war, and Romney, with his deliberately passive performance, certainly conveyed that message. Never mind that in the past he's said he wouldn't yank U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014 without the consent of military leaders; he now says he's pulling out, period.
All candidates gravitate to the center in a general election; you don't hear Obama talking much about gay marriage these days. But Romney's abrupt evolution has been so audacious that it must be a feat of mental gymnastics to keep in his head all the past statements and current iterations.